Welcome back to our eighth – and final – installment of the How to Start an Online Business series. We’ve covered what you need (and don’t need) to make money online, how to set up a WordPress site, what you need to do to drive traffic to your business, and now, we’re going to talk about monetization. In essence, I’m going to tell you how to turn the site you created into a money maker.
So, you’ve started your blog. You envisioned it, you built it, and you shared it with the world. You’re quickly gaining Twitter followers and your Facebook posts are getting tons of likes. Great! But let me ask you: what good is all of that if it’s not making you any money?
Sure, this may not be entirely about the money, as is the case for many of us. But, if you’re going to turn this into a side hustle (or a full-time gig, like it is for me), your site needs to be able to generate income.
There are three general ways that you can pay the bills with your website. You can sell your own goods (as an e-commerce site), sell someone else’s goods (using affiliate marketing), or utilize display advertising. Since I only have experience with the latter two, those are the ones I’m going to cover today.
Display ads often get a bad rap, and that’s probably because they can be used poorly and, honestly, can even be annoying at times. Sometimes, you go to a website just to quickly check something out, and you end up clicking through a number of pop-ups. Other sites have more ads than content on the page. And, depending on the topic, you can even end up with some pretty shady stuff on your pages.
If handled properly, though, ads can be complimentary to your content, and even helpful for your readers. And you can make sure that your visitors are neither inconvenienced or bothered by the ads you display.
1. Where to Get the Ads
Both are very, very easy to implement. You’ll sign up for an account, pick the size and type of ad you’d like to use, and insert the provided snippet of code into your site. That’s it.
The code will scan your content and display ads that are relevant and related. For example, if you go to a page on Dough Roller that talks about credit scores, AdSense and Media.net would look at the page and show ads that someone interested in credit scores might find valuable. Go to another page on the website, and you’ll probably see completely different ads.
These might be valuable to you or they might not, but I personally think it adds a lot of value. The ads might not always be for products that your readers need, but for some, it might be exactly what they’re looking for. It’s one more resource for them, and a way to earn money for you.
You can log into either company’s platform and view how your ads are doing. See how many times the ads have been shown, how many clicks they’ve received, how much revenue you’ve generated, etc. And you can also change your display settings. This is very important.
For instance, I came across a big dating ad on one of my sites, which, of course, had nothing to do with personal finance. I doubt many of my readers would find that valuable, and many might even be put off by seeing that on the page. All I had to do was go into AdSense and disable all dating ads, and they were excluded from all future ad generations.
2. Where Do I Put Them on My Site?
So, now you have a display ad account. Where on earth do you put them on your website?
From my experience, ads placed within the content do better than those tucked away in headers, footers, and sidebars. They can all generate income, of course. Content ads seem to do better, though, from what I’ve seen. This makes sense because as people are reading through the page, they will inevitably come across the ad and be forced to evaluate whether it interests them (and is worth the click).
You need to be careful here, as you don’t want your page to be too full of ads and look spammy. One of my own rules is that I don’t put ads above the fold – this means that you won’t see any ads in the content until you choose to scroll down the page. Hopefully, people are coming to the page to read my content. If they continue reading, they may come across an ad or two, but they won’t be inundated. I do have an image ad in my header, as it tends to be very relevant and helpful. Those are very easy for the reader to ignore, though, so I keep it there.
3. Quick AdSense
You may still not understand exactly how to insert these ads into your sidebars, headers, or footers. With WordPress, it’s easy: you just drop the code into what’s called a widget. But what about putting it into your content? Do you need to insert that code into every single article you publish?
Please, please don’t. This may not be an issue when you’re first starting out. But what if you need to change this code later on, after you’ve already published hundreds or thousands of articles? You’d need to go in and edit every single one.
A better option is to use a WordPress plugin such as Quick AdSense. It’s a free tool that you can download, which will automatically insert the display ad codes into each article you publish. You can set it to input codes in the middle and the end of each article, for example, or wherever you want them. And if you need to change your code in the future, for whatever reason? You just change it in the plugin, versus going through each and every article.
4. How Much Will I Make?
This is what you’ve really wanted to ask, right? I get this question all the time: How much can I really make with click ads? Some people say you’ll hardly make anything, because each click only earns you a few pennies. Don’t listen to this, though. How much you make depends entirely on two things: how much traffic you get to your site and the topics you cover.
This seems pretty obvious, but the more traffic you draw to your site, the more money you’re going to make on ads. More people will be clicking, and more revenue will be generated. In the beginning, sure, you’re probably not going to earn very much. But as time goes on and your readership grows, so will your revenue.
The topics you write about will determine your advertising value, as well. Advertisers are bidding on keywords through these display ad websites, so your applicable keywords matter. An article about investing will be far more valuable to AdSense or Media.net than an article about a book. Investing can encompass any number of related topics (and therefore, ads), whereas books are a very narrow topic and don’t have a wide profit margin to begin with.
I know many, many bloggers who make thousands of dollars a month. In fact, I know some that make five figures a month on display ads, and even some that I suspect make six figures a month. Of course, their sites are getting millions of visitors a month, but they worked up to that.
My point is, making money with display ads is more than possible.
The other realm of monetization is through affiliate marketing, which I also utilize here on Dough Roller. This is the practice of using a special link (An affiliate link) to direct a visitor to a particular company or product. If they then sign up for that service or buy that product, you earn a commission. Think of it as an online finders’ fee.
There are a number of ways to make this work for you and your site, and even some that I want to point out as worthless.
5. Affiliate Networks
One easy way to get started with affiliate marketing is by joining an affiliate network. These networks act as middlemen and connect you to advertisers in whom you may be interested. This takes a lot of work out of the equation, and saves you from having to seek out individual accounts.
You’ll need to sign up for an account through one of these networks – some of the ones I use are Commission Junction, Link Share (now Ratuken.com), Impact Radius, and even, in some ways, Amazon. Once you sign up for an account, you can search through their available companies within the network, and apply for different companies’ programs. Some are easy to get approved for, and others are quite difficult (especially if you don’t yet have a lot of traffic).
But joining the affiliate network makes it easy to find them all in one place and apply.
These affiliate links can be a very good way to generate income. Some of them may not earn as much as others, but every penny counts. For instance, I had someone send an unfriendly email a while back accusing me of only reviewing a book so that I could link to Amazon and make a commission. I laughed, because I don’t make much money off of Amazon at all. If I link out to a $10 book and someone buys it, I’ll earn 5% — that’s a whopping $0.50. Last month, I made $50 on Amazon. Sure, it’s $50 I didn’t have, but it’s certainly not “quit your day job” money. And I’m not going to review a book on the site just to make a couple bucks off of the few people who buy it.
Write about the topics you would cover anyway. Don’t write about a topic just to be able to throw in an affiliate link, but if there’s one available? It’s a great way to help monetize your site and keep it going.
6. Don’t Waste Time on Banner Ads
This one is pretty straightforward.
So, with affiliate marketing, you have the option to create banner ads within the networks. They’ll let you generate links that you put right into your website, which will automatically create image and text ads. They’re very easy to grab off the site, and your affiliate code is automatically included.
However, in my experience, they’re pretty useless. This is because we, as internet readers, have become desensitized to banners. We look right over them and hardly ever take the time to read them. That’s not to say that they won’t generate any sales or income for you, but I certainly wouldn’t spend a lot of time or effort on them. They just don’t work very well. My suggestion is to stick with affiliate text links.
Which begs the question: where do you put those text links and how can you best use them?
7. Write (Good!) Reviews
Text affiliate links work well in review articles, whether it’s a review of a product, service, or whatever. But here’s the key: before you write a review, make sure that it will actually add value to the conversation.
Scour the web and find the existing articles out there. Then ask yourself if you can do something different. How will your review be better than what’s already out there? Of course, this won’t guarantee a first page ranking on Google (especially if you’re a new blog), but over time, this will add value to your site, your readers will find your reviews useful, and you’ll start ranking higher and higher in search engines. Oh, and one thing I’ve learned is that reviews are infinitely better if you’ve actually used a product or service before writing them, rather than just researching it online first.
This is why I mentioned Blender Dude a few installments back – he obviously uses these products. He tries them out, he creates video comparisons, and he writes thorough reviews based on his own experiences. His readers have come to trust his opinion and expertise, and his reviews are stellar. I’ve found that this concept works great on Dough Roller, too.
We have quite a few reviews on this site: credit cards, books, services, etc. Some may not be that great, especially from the earlier years. But we now ask ourselves first, “Why should we add this to the internet?” And personal experience always results in a better review.
I did a review recently on the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, for example. In my case, I actually applied for the card, got it, and used it. I used the rewards that came with the card and even learned a few things that I would have never known, had I not experienced them firsthand.
So, utilize reviews for both your content as a whole and for affiliate marketing. But make sure the reviews are adding something to the conversation, and not just an excuse to throw in a link.
8. Comparison Articles
I’ll mention Blender Dude again here (no, he’s not an affiliate) because I think he really has an excellent approach to his business. One of the most valuable things he posts are comparison articles. I mentioned how that’s the reason I even came across his site: I was trying to decide whether to spring for the more pricey model, and his comparison of the two was exactly what I needed.
Comparisons can be very useful for your readers, especially those trying to make a decision about similar products or services. And these articles, in turn, are a great place to include your affiliate text links.
9. List Posts
Readers love lists posts, and for good reason. They’re a great place to find a number of options or tips on a related topic, all in one easy-to-read place. But again, you need to ask yourself first if your list post is meaningful.
Also, just know that any good list should be helpful first, and monetized second. Meaning, don’t just create a list of affiliate links for your readers. Rather, create a helpful, educational list that they can reference when they need it. If there are affiliate links available for a few of the products or services? Throw them in after the fact.
We have plenty of lists here on Dough Roller, with many, many options shown that don’t have affiliate programs. In fact, some of these lists have NO affiliate links included. They’re just things that I think my readers would find beneficial, and I want to share the information. One of my most popular pages (that gets a ton of traffic) involves getting an estimate on the value of your home. My readers obviously find this very valuable, and keep coming back. That’s great! It doesn’t have a single affiliate link on there, either, but that’s ok. As long as visitors find it useful, I’m happy.
While making money from your site is certainly an important factor, it shouldn’t be the first or only factor.
10. Don’t Sell Your Soul
While I’ve outlined a number of ways that you can generate income from your website, I want you to ensure that you don’t sell your soul in the attempt.
The vast majority of pages on Dough Roller earn marginal revenue, if any at all. I mentioned this in one of the earlier installments, and I mean it. There are a few posts that I have which earn the majority of the site’s income, and I’m perfectly fine with that.
I view those money-maker posts as the commercials, with the rest of the posts – which earn little or nothing – as the show. You don’t want 55 minutes of commercials and 5 minutes of your favorite show, do you? No, quite the opposite. So, generate income from the big articles. Have a few that make good money, and let the rest add to the content value of the site. It prevents you from driving readers away and allows you to pay the bills.
Take my podcast, for instance. I have spent a fair amount of time on it over the years, and it doesn’t necessarily make me much money. I don’t currently have advertisers on the podcasts, though that may change in the future (I’m talking to you, Vanguard). But that’s alright. I think that they provide a lot of information and guidance for my listeners, and that’s enough for me. There needs to be a good balance.
One more thing you may come across is sponsored posts. I get requests for these all the time, but I’ve actually only done two in the ten-year history of Dough Roller. I’d clearly market it as a sponsor post so the reader knew, and I would only allow posts about products or services that I already liked, but they’re just not my cup of tea. There’s nothing wrong with them, per se, but it’s not what I like to do with Dough Roller.
That’s where I have drawn my line in the past, and you’ll need to draw your own. Be sure that you set your own limits for your online business, and don’t sell yourself out for every penny possible. Work toward creating something solid and helpful, and the money will continue to come.
Now, Put It All to Work
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series as much as I’ve enjoyed creating it. You now have the basic tools needed to start your own online business. Whether you want it to be a hobby, earn enough to pad your emergency fund, or even turn this into your full-time job, you know where to start. Please keep me updated as you continue you own online business journey – I would love to hear about your successes!
As I mentioned before, you’re welcome to join the Dough Roller Facebook group. It’s a great place to ask questions and get wonderful answers, and the community that the members have built is one of the best. Hope to see you there!